In the intervening week, the political pressure got too much for the Board of Visitors, the name for the university’s board of directors, who gave in and reinstated President Sullivan. The board acted shamefully in backing down and abdicating its responsibility. It is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the University of Virginia’s faculty.
A Boards of Directors role in corporate life is to represent the shareholders, the real owners of the corporation. The UVA Board of Visitors is supposed to represent the citizens of Virginia, the real owners of UVA. Instead, like many corporate boards, the UVA Board of Visitors has been captured by the very people they ought to be overseeing. When that happens, things can go wrong very fast.
The problems facing the University of Virginia are similar to the problems facing virtually all higher educational institutions: the HIGHER EDUCATION BUBBLE. The prices they charge for their product have spiraled out of control and people are paying ridiculous prices for a certificate that has diminished value. Students are taking on debt to get the certificate, one-third don’t even get their degree, total student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt and it’s the one debt that can’t be discharged by bankruptcy.
Apparently the housing bubble didn’t teach us a thing. The one difference between the housing bubble and the higher education bubble is that if you are upside down in your mortgage, you at least have a home to live in.
Like the realtors and the mortgage lenders ten years ago, the inhabitants of academia are in denial. They may sense that there is something wrong, but they don’t know how to fix it and are in denial about the urgency of the problem. Stuck in a thousand year old time warp, they have as much grasp of why they are in decline as newspaper editors were when they were introduced to the Internet. As recently as this week, Leonard Pitts was trying to rally the troops behind the viability and absolute necessity of newspapers.
Denial is not a just river in Egypt. The simple fact that you had to watch Fox News or go to the Internet to have heard of the Fast and Furious scandal illustrates why Pitts is wrong.
But back to UVA. The faculty staged a coup and won. It how owns the problem and is responsible for the solution. I have zero faith in their ability, indeed in their desire, to address the problem. And when UVA becomes a historical curiosity, reminiscent of Colonial Williamsburg just down the road, we will know who to blame.